A Truly Rational Faith


St. Paul notes that “faith works through love” (Gal. 5:6). This describes the very heart of the ascetic life. Only love extends itself in the self-emptying struggle against the passions without becoming lost in the solipsism of asceticism for its own sake. It is love that endures the contradictions of reality without turning away or reducing them. And it is love that finally comprehends the reality hidden within the contradictions that confront us.


It would not be surprising, if you were speaking to a group of fish, for everything you said to be understood in terms of water. If something completely permeates our world, it’s hard to imagine anything in other terms. This is the difficulty in speaking about faith in the context of our modern world. Our culture thinks in terms of “thinking” (ratio). However, Christian faith is not a subset or a mode of discursive reason. It is, however, a mode of perception, just as is seeing, smelling, hearing, or touch. Faith is the mode of the heart’s perception, and since everyone, even a modern person, actually has a heart, everyone is capable of faith. It is, however, something that takes practice and patience.

Vladimir Lossky, the great Russian theologian of the mid-20th century, wrote:

Christian faith… is adherence to a presence which confers certitude, in such a way that certitude, here, is first….Thus faith allows us to think, it gives us true intelligence. Knowledge is given to us by faith, that is to say, by our participatory adherence to the presence of Him Who reveals Himself. Faith is therefore not a psychological attitude, a mere fidelity. It is an ontological relationship between man and God, an internally objective relationship for which the catechumen prepares himself, and through which baptism and chrismation are conferred upon the faithful: gifts which restore and vivify the deepest nature of man. “In Baptism,” said Irenaeus, “one receives the immutable canon of truth.” It is first the “rule of faith,” transmitted to the initiated. But this regula fidei (Tertullian, Irenaeus) implies the very faculty of receiving it. “The heretics who have perverted the rule of truth,” St. Irenaeus wrote, “preach themselves when they believe that they are preaching Christianity” (Adversus haereses, Book III). This faculty is the personal existence of man, it is his nature made to assimilate itself to divine life – both mortified in their state of separation and death and vivified by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Faith as ontological participation included in a personal meeting is therefore the first condition for theological knowledge.

From Introduction to Orthodox Theology, pp. 16-17.

That is a very meaty quote, worth looking at carefully. Lossky defines faith as “ontological participation included in a personal meeting.” This is absolutely not the “faith” of discursive reason – it is not something that involves a “leap.” It is not something we use to get around or over doubt. It is not about “thinking.”

In the disintegration of human understanding that marks the modern project, reason has been reduced to discursive reasoning, i.e. logic. Popularly, it refers to what can be proven by demonstration (and often less than that). At the same time, there has been a groundswell of sentimentality, in which how we “feel” about something has been elevated to a position above rational argument. It is in this context that faith is easily misunderstood. Faith is not a leap beyond the provable, nor is it a motion based on strong sentiment. Faith is a mode of perception, a means by which we may know. But it belongs to a much larger understanding of human cognition that is unknown to our culture.

Lossky’s weighty description of faith is: “a participatory adherence to the presence of Him Who reveals Himself.” Every word of his definition is primary. First, there is the notion of participation (koinonia). This is thoroughly Biblical where knowledge is seen as participatory, the result of communion and coinherence. This is problematic for modern understanding. Our culture is rooted in assumptions of radical individualism. It believes that we are not only distinct and separate from everything around us but also that what we think about something is, largely, the sum total of our experience. Thus, what I think and how I feel are considered sufficient to define “my reality.” There is no communion, only occasional alliances with other individuals for a common purpose.

In the Old Testament, it is said that a man “knew his wife,” when making reference to their conjugal union. Modern thought tends to smile knowingly and think that what is being said is but a quaint metaphor for sex. But “sex” is itself the crude metaphor of an individualistic culture that has reduced “union” to a set of feelings. The Biblical phrase expresses the understanding that what is taking place between husband and wife transcends its physical expression. It is a true union in which the two “become one flesh.” Again, such a statement is treated as “mere metaphor” in our modern culture, when it is quite the opposite. It is an effort, in words, to give voice to an experience of knowing that is virtually inexpressible. The modern assumption is that the phrase, “knew his wife,” is an effort to avoid what is actually happening, when it is, in fact, an effort to actually express what is happening beyond direct observation.

Every act of true communion is an act of faith.

The crude materialism of our culture has no way to give an account for the notion of communion. In truth, it does not give a very good account of materialism. Even on the purely material level, our experience of the world and of each other is far more participatory than we consider. We breathe our environment. We eat and drink our environment. The whole living world is a communion of DNA, an interplay, and interrelationship of organisms who have never been utterly distinct. Our own existence and health is itself a symbiotic relationship with colonies of bacteria living within us. Indeed, according to some studies, those same bacteria have an impact on how we think and perceive. And our being unaware of such relationships does not negate them. It only underlines how ignorant our modern perceptions often are.

Lossky adds to communion (participation) the word adherence. Faith is a knowledge that does not come by brief encounter. It is a perception that goes deeply beyond mere observation. It requires true attention. Attentiveness (nepsis), often rendered as “sobriety,” is a key element of the ascetic life of classical Christianity. It is more than mere mindfulness, much less holding a single thought. Rather, it is the fruit of love. It is the attentiveness that is reserved for the beloved – a communion of adherence.

And this is the last word of Lossky’s definition: presence. Faith is a perception and communion, which means that there is actually something (someone) to be perceived and with which to have communion. Faith is not an action reserved to some portion of our mind – it does not take place within us. It is a perception that is true communion.

This carries the conversation back to my previous article, reflecting of Florensky’s description of contradiction. Reality, especially the Presence of God who is the only truly existing One, confronts us as something of a contradiction. It cannot be reduced to discursive reasoning, as indeed is true of anything within the created order as well. Discursive reasoning is but a small sliver of human activity (sentimentality is smaller still). True reason or rationality (logikos) was never meant to be restricted to mere discursive patterns. True reason is the whole capacity that we have as human beings to perceive, know, consider, commune, etc. We are logikos because we are created in the image of the Logos, not because we think in terms of “A” and “not-A” being mutually contradictory.

Florensky centered the perception that carries us past contradiction and into Truth, in the ascetic life of love. This is in full agreement with Lossky’s “participatory adherence to the Presence.” In our cultural context, to use the word “love,” is to invite the entire world of sentimentality into a conversation where it does not belong. The contemporary world knows very little of love in its proper sense. For “love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (1John 4:7). We are told that “faith works by love” (Gal. 5:6). We are able to perceive what is true by the ascetic life of participatory adherence to the things of God.


About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.


58 responses to “A Truly Rational Faith”

  1. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    Thank you Father. It is refreshing to be pushed to think outside the secular understanding of knowing and rationality into consideration of Truth and to the reality of communion.

  2. Randall Herman Avatar
    Randall Herman

    This reminds me of Luther’s statement that ‘Christ is present in faith itself ‘. A most wonderful article! Thank you, Fr. Stephen.

  3. Sophia Avatar

    Very interesting article father, thank you.
    Would you please expand a little on the concept of love……I mean the real christian love, that you mention at the end of your article. I feel myself like there is much confusion nowadays regarding love, divine love, “what I love”, etc. Maybe we tend even to abuse the word love.
    I myself most of the time struggle with love. How to act in love, how to discipline in love (for example my child), how to be a loving friend without crossing boundaries, how to help and offer assistance in love to a stranger, and the list can go on. I’m afraid that love most of the time eludes me and when I think that I’m acting in love I do more harm than good. Please your thoughts and advice on Love………

    Thank you and God bless,

  4. Onesimus Avatar

    Thank you Father.

  5. Byron Avatar

    Wonderful, wonderful article, Father! Many thanks!

  6. James Isaac Avatar
    James Isaac

    “Faith is a perception and communion, which means that there is actually something (someone) to be perceived and with which to have communion.”

    I have found it puzzling – once having become fairly conversant with Koine Greek of the NT Scripture – that St. Paul’s oft-used phrase “pistis Christou” is virtually always translated “faith IN Christ” when that is not the natural, grammatical rendering. “Faith OF Christ” – i.e. His perception of and communion with the Father and the Spirit, and with all creatures – is a much more coherent translation once the ‘backstory’ is better understood.

    Your comments concerning Lossky’s definition of faith are most helpful in explaining this usage of St. Paul’s. Thank you again, Father.

  7. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    James Isaac,
    One of the great difficulties of translation, and something that many people never quite overcome, is the need to have a sort of one-to-one correspondence. This is notoriously difficult when it comes to prepositions in English. We look at a preposition in another language and read that it can me “in,” “with,” or “by,” for example. And when we’re translating we think, “Which one of these does this mean in this sentence.” But, if you actually know the other language, it only ever means the one thing, the preposition that has no real equivalent in English. So that native speakers, when that have concepts sort of like “in, with and by,” have a single word for them. And we have no “feel” for that. It’s the hardest thing to ever really learn in another language, I think.

    If you look at Smythe’s Greek Grammar, you’ll find tons of uses of the genitive case (as in Christou). No native speaker ever needs to consult Smythe’s grammar. It just feels right and sounds right. There are many articles that I read in which people get very picky about some careful parsing of a meaning (this is a terrible habit of many Biblical literalists). And they really will never, ever be able to read the foreign language literally, because it’s not their language. I recall a couple of years back, someone in our comments, well-educated in Greek, sort of arguing with Dino (who comments frequently) about a certain Greek usage. But Dino is Greek – he really(!) knows what he’s talking about!

    I had a conversation Sunday with some folks about my Appalachian dialedt. We have a usage, a double modal, such as “might could.” It’s good Appalachian dialect and expresses an extremely subtle shade of the subjunctive mood, that neither “might,” nor “could,” can do alone. But the person I was talking to was from Illinois. She said she could not fathom the meaning I was describing. I might could have done a better job of explaining it. 🙂

  8. Maximos Avatar

    Father, forgive me, but I did not get the segue from Lossky’s “adherence” to your “perception”. It seems that if we understand adherence in its natural understanding of
    “the quality of adhering; steady devotion, support, allegiance, or attachment”, then perhaps Lossky is thinking more along the lines of the word “remain” or “abide” throughout St John writings. Here specifically 1 John 4:
    12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.

    This seems to be a nice segue to the rest of the blog. This is, as Lossky and you clearly point out, the participatory adherence, ontologically, to His presence, which is love. Forgive me for my not so veiled confusion and clarification. With much thanks for getting me to, dare I say, think on these things again.

  9. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    This is very good, Fr. Stephen. Thank you.

    In our modern culture (and often in our churches as well), we use the words “faith” and “belief” as though they are interchangeable. This seems to lend to the impression that God and the truth of Christianity is something we merely “believe”, as we might believe a hypothesis that we cannot prove but have some data to support.

    Faith as a way of knowing confuses people. “You cannot KNOW God,” they will say. “Prove to me that God exists – then I will believe.” (Of course, believing is unnecessary with proof, but that is beside the point. The point, well made in your article, is that knowing is associated with discursive reasoning in the modern project.)

    To know God is so much more than mere belief. It is relationship – but relationship at a level that transcends any human relationship. I am reminded of words from the song, “My God is real” composed by Don Gibson: “I am sure of this one thing, my God is real for I can feel him in my soul.”

    This is not mere emotion. It is communion – the knowing of love. I know Him – He is in my soul…

  10. Grant Hudson Avatar
    Grant Hudson

    Wow. Needs a couple of re-readings. I was thinking that mathematics, for example, is very logical until you get into its outer edges and concepts like infinity. Then logic utterly fails.

    I read each one of your posts carefully and keep them. They are helping me stay ‘on the path’ – or at least to be aware that there is a path to stay on…

  11. Lina Avatar

    Reading this article I was reminded of a phrase I was taught years ago, “Eating is believing and believing is eating.” This is in reference to taking communion.

  12. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I am using “perception” in its sense of “knowing or understanding.” To “perceive that something is true,” etc. It is the consequence or fruit of what Lossky is saying in adherence.

  13. Sharon Avatar

    Fr. Freeman –

    This quote from Lossky: “Knowledge is given to us by faith, that is to say, by our participatory adherence to the presence of Him Who reveals Himself.”

    Would it be correct to say that this is an activity that occurs in the nous?
    And that we can only live from the nous when we live neither from the mind (intellect) or the emotions (passions)?

    Thank you.

  14. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes. However, I think it is very easy to make the nous a sort of abstraction – like some sort of “super mind.” The nous, as heart, indeed extends through the whole of our being. So that one could say, “I believe with every fiber of my being,” or something like that. It is this mentalizing (is that a word?) of spirituality that leads us down a wrong path.

    My tongue knows God when I take communion as does my belly, etc. The nous as “heart” is an aspect of everything that we are and the proper grounding for everything we do.

    I have sometimes used images from kenesthetic memory (like learning to ride a bicycle) as a means of trying to understand what we should mean by the nous. It is not kenesthetic memory – but it’s actually much closer to that than it is to thinking.

  15. Dino Avatar


    Your question got me thinking. I hope Father corrects me here… I think that as soon as we recognise that the only meaning is found in Love, that question of yours (“how to love”) becomes the question indeed…
    But we can’t disregard the experiential reality that we actually cannot truly love: not like God loves… St Makarius, for instance, recommends we act as if we had love, in order to express to God that we want Him to give us its power in earnest and then He’ll give us genuine love. He advises the same for all virtues.
    But the truth is we haven’t got it in us, and even if we did, (without an absolute reference to ‘Love Himself’), our love would be invariably based upon our own motives. For such a thing as true love we need God’s Grace acting through us. Only then, when it becomes God Himself who loves through us, can we fulfil the commandment of love in its fullness. What we can do towards this end however, is to come to the deep and permanent realization of our. weakness, our nothingness, our utter dependency upon our God of Love, and then we, ourselves, suddenly become capable (‘in Christ ‘) to love. His Grace then comes and makes us incapable not to love, but Grace’s [and therefore true love’s] supplier is –in this perspective- this existential humility and singular trust in Him alone.

  16. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Very well said and spot on. “Love is from God,” meaning, it is not human – at least not the love we are commanded to have. But to offer ourselves to Him with what we have – particularly the recognition of our weakness (which is the heart of repentance) is the right path.

  17. MichaelPatrick Avatar

    Thank you Dino — very helpful here!

  18. Sophia Avatar


    Thank you and God bless you for your thoughtful response…….indeed for me too, “How to love” is The Question…….I often thought of this life as nothing more but a “school of divine love”……..we come into this world to learn how to love……maybe said differently…..how to give ourselves entirely to God, and thus permeated by His love, we become capable of love ourselves (as you have also stated above).
    I’ve read not only from St. Makarius but also other saints as well this recommendation: that we act as if we had love and then God seeing our predisposition will grant us the REAL thing……..and the first temptation was “you hypocrite!”…….ok, I said nothing new I’m a hypocrite…..and after attempting many times to act like you have that kind of divine, unconditional love, I’ve founded myself to the point of despair over my “now clearly perceived” weaknesses and darkness……glory be to God He does not allow us to be tempted more than we can bear……..
    But one thing that I’ve learned so far (or better say, I was taught so far) is that repentance goes through a valley of excruciating pain in the heart……..

    Thanks again and thank you to you too Father,


  19. Nicole from VA Avatar
    Nicole from VA

    In one of the Prayers after Communion we ask that the Communion will be for ‘faith invincible, for love unfeigned’

    And there is a quote from The Monk of Mount Athos that Love will forever be a mystery to philologists “because it is the name of God Himself.”

    I have struggled with the same issues as Sophia. Sometimes I truly sense the will of God guiding me to rach out in some way to someone else. Other time I have realized that I am essentially steam rolling over others in my attempt to somehow ‘help.’

    I wonder how much of this is middle class guilt or an attempt to buy my way into Heaven. I have caught myself thinking “I wish I could make God happy.”

    I have realized from other comments that that is incorrect.

    Recently I learned the monastic saying “let your alms sweat in your hands until you know who to give them to.”

    Perhaps this quote speaks to the type of knowing Fr. Stephen is referring to?

  20. Pete Avatar

    We have an icon of all of Lossky’s brilliant points in the Gospels. Lossky’s definition is chalk-full of wisdom and every word is indeed primary.

    The organ of faith is the nous. Eph 4:23. This faith that we speak of is a mode of perception, that through participation (i.e., communion – the ontological gap, has indeed been gapped) becomes the means by which we start to hear, to see, to know. Every act of faith is transmuted into true communion (by uncreated grace).

    The icon of all of this can be found with the woman with the issue of blood. Luke 8:43 – 48.

    V.44- 46 in particular

    44 came behind him, and Touched the border of his garment: and immediately her issue of blood stanched.

    45 And Jesus said, who touched me? When all denied, Peter and they that were with him said, Master, the multitude throng thee and press thee, and sayest thou, who touched me?

    46 And Jesus said, somebody hath touched me: for I Perceive that virtue is gone out of me.

    There was a multitude of people there, but only one “touched” him.

    On her part, there was an act, a mode of perception; one that was participatory. Faith is always about the specific. The organ of faith is something specific. In time it is something specific (Now faith is….) This is true because everything about the Kingdom is about intimacy; and that is always specific. It is with all that we love.

    This mode of perception (faith) of the Good One’s true presence is the perception of love.

    Finally, Jesus tells the woman with the issue of blood,(v 48) be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace.

    The act is communal and therefore reciprocal.

  21. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I indeed believe that we overthink things. Generally, I trust God to send me people who are in need (of alms). I don’t necessarily go looking for “someone to help.”

  22. Dino Avatar

    One of the greatest paradoxes in one’s effort towards acquiring true love is that Love’s practical antagonist is not hate, but “other loves”. The OT, for instance, testifies repetitively that a cold-heart towards God is mostly a product of turning to other ‘gods’…
    The first step on the ‘Ladder of Divine ascent’ is renunciation for this reason I think, it relates closely to this ironic enemy of genuine Love: other ‘loves’.
    An attached heart is not yet free to love correctly, even if Grace blazes it. One who loves one person but does not respect their freedom, or one who loves one but does not love another does not yet love anyone. Love that comes form God is clearly not preference, worry, desire, possession, expectation, or attachment… Our most concrete foes in our efforts to love God and neigbour with the love “which does not seek its own” are habitually other loves/attachments.
    All we can do is peacefully and singularly focus on God alone (who is Love) in the unceasing remembrance of our complete weakness. His Grace will eventually make us unable to differentiate between ourselves and all others because of our love towards Him. We will only then be fulfilling the second commandment in its fullness through the Holy Spirit.
    Indeed, when we are singularly focused on the first commandment, the second can find the right fuel for its ignition, and only then it can be felt by the receivers-of-God’s-love-emanating-though-us as a noble and respectful (rather than an oppressive or self-preoccupied) love, and ultimately as a magnanimous and thawing, rather than a cold and manipulative love.

  23. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    “Simon Peter, do you love me more than these?”

  24. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    Since I was baptized as an infant before Vatican II, my bishop allowed me to be received into the Orthodox Church by Chrismation. There are significant differences between the pre-V II baptismal rite and the post-V II rite; in the older, I recognize words and actions that are said and done at an Orthodox baptism. What this post brought to mind are the opening words of the old rite (of course, at the time said in Latin):

    Priest: N., what do you ask of the Church of God?
    Sponsor/Catechumen: Faith.
    Priest: What does Faith offer you?
    Sponsor/Catechumen: Life everlasting.
    Priest: If then you desire to enter into life, keep the commandments. ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and with thy whole soul and with thy whole mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.’

    Here is expressed the necessity of faith prior to the Sacrament, and in order to be able to love and keep the rest of the commandments. I am grateful those words were spoken over me when I was only a few weeks old, more now than ever.


  25. Agata Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    “Simon Peter, do you love me more than these?”

    Could you please explain these verses more? It this what Dino is describing, that our love for others comes only through loving God? What is the Lord asking Peter, to love Him or to love others?

  26. Nicole from VA Avatar
    Nicole from VA

    Nepsis: “attentiveness that is reserved for the beloved.”

    This helps me be grateful for the command to pray without ceasing rather than confused by it.

    Also, a small note to Grant: Math doesn’t just move beyond our logic at its outer fringes. It is beyond us at its most proximal. A square with side length 5 has perimeter 20. We can measure it simply. A circle with radius 5 has circumference 2 times pi times r, so 10pi and pi is an irrational number. 3.1415….. Humans have been trying for a long time to find the last decimal of pi, the nonterminating, nonrepeating reminder we don’t know everything. The square root of two is also irrational, so a right triangle with two short sides each equal to 1 also has a hypotenuse we cannot precisely measure. The simplest short sides and a challenge to our understanding in the hypotenuse.

    In college I was an English Lit major but ended up with a 29 credit minor in math. I was blessed with the opportunity to learn an alternate way of comprehending by calming down, trusting the peace that passes understanding and depending on a miracle. There is so much beauty in that experience. I have been hoping to learn how to approach everthing that way and am greatful for this article Father.

  27. Dino Avatar

    Here’s another voice with the same message from Met. Hilarion Alfeyev’s, “The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian”

    This universal love about which Isaac speaks cannot be obtained by deeds of philanthropy or, in general, by human effort: it is a gift which we receive directly from God. Isaac’s teaching on how the love of neighbor is acquired can be outlined as follows:
    – a person withdraws himself from his neighbor for the sake of life in solitude and stillness;
    – through this he acquires an ardent love of God;
    – this love gives birth in him to the ‘luminous love’ (hubba sapya) of humanity.
    This is borrowed by Isaac from the Macarian Homilies, John the Solitary and other Syrian writers. The theme of ‘luminous love’ is developed by Isaac in Chapter X of Part II:
    “A person who has stillness and converse of knowledge will easily and quickly arrive to the love of God, and with the love of God he will draw close to perfect love of fellow human beings. No one has ever been able to draw close to luminous love of humanity without having first been held worthy of the wonderful and inebriating love of God.”

    The scheme offered by Isaac is therefore different from the one we find in the First Epistle of John: ‘He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?’ According to Isaac, one should first love God whom he does not see and by means of this love draw near to the love of his neighbor whom he sees – or in this case whom he also does not see because he has deliberately withdrawn from seeing him. To acquire the love of one’s neighbor by means of good deeds is as impossible as acquiring the love of God by means of the love of neighbor:
    “To come from the toil and struggle with the thoughts to the luminous love of humanity, and from this to be raised up to the love of God – is a course impossible for someone to complete in this life, right up to the the time he departs from the world, however hard he struggles. On the basis of the commandments and by discernment, it is possible for someone to control his thoughts and to purify his sensibility with respect to others, and he can even perform good towards them. But for him to attain to a luminous love of humanity by means of struggle, I am not persuaded to admit as possible: there is no one who has attained this, and none who will attain it, by this path in life. Without wine no one can get drunk, nor will his heart leap in joy; and without inebriation in God, no one by the natural course of events will obtain the virtue that does not belong to him, nor will it remain in him serenely and without compulsion.”

    And if we were to now ask, ‘how do we obtain such ‘inebriation’ living in the world? I think that that the first and most decisive step -according to the Saints who have verified this path in their lives- (which admittedly might lead us to a burning desire for the hesychastic life in the desert) is without a shadow of a doubt the recognition of our utter weakness.

  28. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    In one way the reality that we are incapable of love on our own is depressing. If such an essential if human life cannot be achieved, what have we?

    It yet is obvious to me that my own efforts throughout the years have been futile but that what God has wrought in my life despite my futility is amazing. Still the impetus to take over and thereby damage His work is with me.

    I sm indeed a perverse man.

    God forgive me.

  29. James Isaac Avatar
    James Isaac

    I hear a lot of Orthodox and non-Orthodox preachers emphasizing St. James’ injunction that “faith without works is dead”, and using it as essentially moralistic exhortation. I wonder if as many have considered that works without faith are dead as well – with faith understood to be participation and communion in God’s scandalous, all-encompassing love. Love which is first and foremost an ontological state of being.

  30. Sophia Avatar

    In “our own” (which means Apart from God) we have nothing, we are nothing, and we can do nothing, because we were created from nothing (which per see is not negative as many people would think. It is just a fact of creation; and an amazing one for that matter!).

    Even our Lord told us plainly that “apart from Me you can do nothing”.
    I do not think it is depressing as much as it is sobering. We tend to forget this very important fact most of the time and continue to live and think and act as we are in absolute control of our lives and our thoughts. But it is very good to start the day with the reminder that every breath we take is a pure gift of God immeasurable goodness. This also (beside keeping us sober) teaches us gratitude that goes hand in hand with humility (being two sides of the same coin).
    Nevertheless, regarding good deeds – and here I mean not only alms giving, but also prayer, participation in Liturgical life of the Church and Sacraments (which on the other hand are Gifts too) and in general striving to keep the commandments is crucial and indispensable. I have in mind here St. Seraphim of Sarov who says that “everything we do, every good deed is for the purpose of acquiring the grace of the Holy Spirit” and when we have acquired this grace we can love. So I do not think that we can acquire love by means of good deeds but still these good deeds are an absolute prerequisite for preparing ourselves (our soul, spirit and body) to acquire the grace of the Holy Spirit. Because when God created us, He has given us certain gifts ……we were created in His image and likeness (the last one yet not perfect but within our potential to achieve by the grace of God). So we have the capability (the potential)(in God and through God) to attain to love.
    On the other hand, the more I strive to live by the commandments, the more I realize my weakness, my “utter dependency” on God and the more I’m humbled day after day, failure after failure (which if you look at them through a spiritual lens are victories and we “glory in our weaknesses”)……….
    I think that we shall attain to love when we have become human (I love Fr. Behr’s book “Becoming Human”)

  31. Dino Avatar

    well said!

  32. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It is, perhaps, depressing, but completely consonant with Christ’s statement, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” There can be no love apart from God – “everyone who loves is born of God…”

  33. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    James Isaac,
    Go back and read my article The Un-moral Christian, and You’re Not Getting Better.

  34. Dee of St Herman's Avatar
    Dee of St Herman’s

    Fr Stephen, Dino, Pete, Sophia and Michael, all have said so much that has given food for my soul. Thank you for your engagement here. Your words have helped to bring about the following reflection.

    I am that fish that Fr Stephen refers to in this article. My ‘water’ is science. I cannot help myself it is my weakness. But in this weakness is God’s Grace.

    Have you heard of ‘catch and release’? My experience of God in science is like that of a fish caught on a hook and being lifted out of the water for a few moments to catch a glimpse of both the water and of the ‘rest of the world’ outside of the water. The ‘hook’ has many meanings. As the woman in the Gospel that Peter quoted reached out to touch the robe of Christ, something happened. The fish opens its mouth and the heart of the woman is open to receive. The woman has faith to receive, the fish, poor creature that it is, is just looking for ‘food’. The woman receives healing, the poor fish gets popped right out of its environment for a brief moment and uncomfortable as it might be in some visceral way, that experience also brings its own kind of peace in its heart as it is released back into the water.

    Now that fish is back in the water and the other fish ask “where did you go”? The simplest answer might be to say “you’d have to be there to know”. But to the fish asking this question, the answer, such as the word ‘there’ has no meaning. It is all that the ‘caught’ fish can do but to point to the surface of the water that they can all see, and say ‘that’s not what you think it is’. Still, what more can be taken from that statement is only the love in the speaker’s heart. And as those who have spoken above, that love is a Grace of God.

  35. Pete Avatar


    That is tremendous imagery. I had to read that a couple of times to take it all in.

    Mary Benton, it was your comments on delineating between the of faith vs. belief that made me think that, yes; you are correct, it seems as though the words are used interchangeably. That is incorrect. I thought of “the woman with the issue of blood” because that story does seem to contrast the difference in a striking manner.

    The multitudes were there. They were following. They were waiting with bated breath on the words of Christ. Yet what they possessed didn’t touch him. Only one in the multitude did. What was the difference? It was her faith that made her whole.

    What did the others not possess? What did they possess in its place? It was probably a “generalized belief.”

    The gospel comes to us and it is always the good news. With it though, is always a challenge. We are called to change. Something specific is required. This is usually the very thing that is most difficult.

    Dino, you are nailing it on our orientation with others, our own sin and God. Your comments in total, reminds me of a St. Silouan quote I think of often: “Until you pray for the world, you will not cease from your sin.”

    If we want to know where our spiritual problems are; it’s here. We don’t pray because we don’t see or know the presence before us. We don’t perceive or value that love. Our organ of faith (the nous) is tarnished. Tarnished by what? Self love. We Will love something. There are no fence sitters. My repentance is ever before me, because my sin is ever before me.

    Within this context, the vision of the wise and foolish virgins comes into focus. The foolish virgins were still pure, still virgins (still moral), yet foolish. How could this be?? (Was moral perfection even their goal?) apparently not. What was missing? That which is perfect; that which is wise.

    One thing is wise: Hypostatic unity of the person, integrated wholly with The One who is life is “the way” or mode of existence. A conscious decision to cleave to this, moment by moment, is the way of perfection.

    Even though we have been given freedom; do we want it? So often, I do not.

    Perhaps, we see our own environment (the water we’re in) and not what is beyond the surface. We really do lack faith.

    God help us all.

  36. Dee of St Herman's Avatar
    Dee of St Herman’s

    Thank you Pete. I was afraid I went too far and was only talking to myself about myself. Such self-centered talk is a serious fault among my ilk. I fear that I live in a fish-bowl–not even in the sea. Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me a sinner.

  37. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father it is only depressing to the extent I listen to the seductive whispers of the darkness who calls me to nothingness rather than true life through Christ.

    There is no middle ground is there?

  38. Dino Avatar

    The composed and uninterrupted remembrance of our absolute weakness and sinfulness is truly the, par excellence, (yet admittedly peculiar) means to permanent, spiritual joy. Predominantly sustained through our unceasing turning God-wards, the understandable God-centeredness that accompanies this stance leads us to a gratitude for everything, whether that comes from our inner world or from our neighbour, our enemies or from demons. Nevertheless such a continual stance, such incessant prayerful orientation, also needs a particular time set aside for the more exclusive invocation of the Lord: the one feeds the other and the two [the calm, ongoing, permanent stance and the more fervent, dedicated time of day – or far better, time of night] are co-dependent. But this is the atmosphere that prepares the ground for the Grace that bring us truthfully closer to that “luminous love of all”.

  39. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    Dee (and Father?),

    you might enjoy (and will certainly fully understand, unlike yours truly) this series of lectures, by Dr Ben McFarland, biochemistry professor at Seattle Pacific U. He is a churchgoing Protestant.

    Begins here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NYnM-lFZEAM

    I was able to “translate” a lot of what he is talking about into “orthodoxese” and make appropriate connections – quite inspiring.


  40. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    When I found this blog in 2008, I knew nothing of thanksgiving even less about the type of thanksgiving talked of here.

    Eight years later I at least know of it and I keep coming back because something in my heart says “yes”

    If I live long enough by the grace of God I will be able to begin to enter the outer courts far enough that I can catch a glimpse of that luminosity.

    I can at least say Glory to God with far more sincerity.

    I lived long in the darkness far more deeply than I realized. It grieves me especially as I see it replicated to some extent in my son. But even there I can see God at work in him too.

  41. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I is very difficult indeed to watch the journey of those you love, when they are not clearly anywhere that you want them to be. I hide my fears in the bosom of the good God, trusting that His will is our salvation. But how the heart breaks! It is faith – very much in the sense that I’ve described it in this article, that says, “Glory to God for all things!” It is a true communion.

  42. Dino Avatar


    Admittedly we couldn’t endure for long while engrossed in our fears; yet hiding them in the bosom of the good God, trusting in his almighty providence for our salvation compensates for this magnificently. One might object and point to St Silouan’s blood and tears for the world’s salvation, but they were wholly brought about by the Holy Spirit which also provided the strength for his universal intercessions, and are generally rather not the same as most of our doubts.
    I am fond of the image of the fish in the storm and how they avoid the waves at the surface by diving deep where the waters are always unperturbed.
    We too can internally dive deeper into our focus on God’s trust and avoid the tempestuous thoughts which are on the surface. Every time [and this needs to be continuous] we say to ourselves, “rise up!”, every time we renew our God-wards, self-disregarding asceticism, every time we fight and refuse to give in to our dreary and weepy worries, we dive deeper into those life-giving waters. We do this by reminding ourselves that, despite the certainty that ‘in the world we will have tribulations’ [some of the worst of which involve our beloved ones], our Lord adds: ‘but be of good cheer!’, and He unreservedly assures us – constantly even, (if we, ourselves wish to make the most of this reminder by internally replenishing it) – that He has “overcome the world” for our sakes.

  43. Seraphim Avatar


    Your statement touches on something I am currently seeking. Since first taking interest in parts of the world outside of my own, I have come face to face with the horrendous suffering humans have been subject to throughout history. Unfortunately, it is this negative aspect of history that draws my focus, and I regularly lose faith thinking about all those who were exploited, tortured, and massacred with little sign that God ever cared. If I cannot find refuge in God, this will surely be my undoing. I am reminded of a statement from a monk, I believe St. Paisios, who said that if it were not for God the world would drive him mad. I fear I am moving towards that madness.

  44. Dee of St Herman's Avatar
    Dee of St Herman’s

    Dino your comment to Michael helps us all who sometimes might need (or are forced) to face difficult circumstances. Reminding us that the depths of the heart and soul where God resides in us is where we might find peace.

    Seraphim, we might not be affronted directly by torture but we deal with such hatred that is the source of it in our daily lives. I am only an infant in the faith but know that in my ineptitude I must rely on the Grace of God in all things. Even (and perhaps especially) in those things that make us weep.

  45. Dee of St Herman's Avatar
    Dee of St Herman’s

    Dana, thank you for your suggestion. I haven’t had the opportunity ye,t but I am going to listen to Dr. McFarland’s talk.

  46. Margaret Avatar

    Dino, thank you for your response to Michael of June 24 here above!

  47. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Seraphim, it is the liar that stirs the apparent chaos and tempts us all in direction of madness.

    When I feel that way, I spend some time contemplating the icon of Peter trying to walk on the water loosing his focus and beginning to sink. Jesus is there and reaches out His hand to save Peter.

    My late wife, memory eternal, thought of it as being in the eye of the storm. As long as we are focused on Him, His abundance and peace are always present.

    Out side that focus it is easy to get thrown about.

    I know that practicing real gratitude is a big part of maintaining the focus.

    May God protect you and guide you.

  48. Dino Avatar


    We could add two cautionary thoughts on the matter of [negatively] pondering the horrendous suffering of others with “little signs of God caring”:
    Firstly, we beginners are missing the crucial vision of the ‘other side’, and without it, even the Cross of Christ Himself can be misinterpreted as an absence of God’s caring…
    Those sufferings of human we therefore deem as ‘deficient of God’s providence’, might in fact –on the eternal plane- be quite the opposite…

    Secondly, when we reflect on, and focus on “the world” by means of our own rationalisations, we often “leave God” and become open to the adversary’s [whose name means ‘the slandered of God’) interpretation of the said sufferings.
    St Silouan’s case is noteworthy here: he discouraged reading the news, and supported going inwards, ‘forgetting the world for the sake of God’; it is only then do we discover we have become one with the world through the action of the Holy Spirit Who leads us to a very different intercession for the world’s salvation. This love is free from attachment and does not lead to a loss of faith. In fact we are lead to an ardent, hearty and enlivening desire to suffer instead of all others in the image of the Crucified and exalted God-Man. All things of the Spirit are resplendent in Joy – even the great weeping to replace all those in Hell paradoxically contains a Christ-like and otherworldly solace within it.
    We can virtually gauge our joy and know -through that- whether we are on the right path or not.

  49. Skeptic Avatar

    This might be useful advice for monastics or for people who interact only with people of like thinking. But for most anyone else, this line of thought is very dangerous and leads to an obscurantist opacity, if not fanaticism. For believers who need to interact with non-Orthodox Christians for whatever reason, the suggestion that non-believers subscribe to a faulty (if not harmfully prideful) rationality cannot lead to any kind of mutual understanding. If we cast aside critical thought as a temptation to be avoided, then we can come to believe anything if we are told to, or anything that feels reassuring, whether or not it makes sense. (It goes without saying that the advice presented above calls into serious question the concept of “making sense,” but this is exactly the point.) Abjuring rational thought (leaving aside the fact that this cannot really be done in one’s daily life) allows anything that “doesn’t make sense” to become possible and equally plausible: astrology; cultish behavior; terrorism; witchcraft; nationalist extremism; the list can go on. The Bible supplies support for almost any practice, including many that are contradictory. So to repeat: this line of thought might be helpful for priests, monks, nuns, and others who don’t need or want to cooperate with the non-Orthodox; but for others, this advice will lead to desperate failures of miscommunication, irreconcilable misunderstandings, and increasing isolation. Everyone should think very carefully before deciding to follow this path, as well as consider what the new desideratum of “truth” becomes if this is done.

  50. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think you make a good point at the end of your comment. “Everyone should think very carefully before deciding to follow this path..as well as consider what the new desideratum of truth becomes…”

    Yes. One thing might not be less interaction with the non-Orthodox, but a more reflective interaction. There is no suggestion here to throw away discursive reason, only to recognize its limits. Besides, in reality, people rarely actually interact with each other on the basis of discursive reason (unless you are in a room full of Vulcans). Most conversations on use a patina of “reason,” constantly shifting between incompatible notions of what actually constitutes reason. Read “Whose Justice, Which Rationality” by Alasdair MacIntyre for a very good analysis of this.

    There are obviously criteria of truth that guard us. Primarily this articles argues for a much larger view of human understanding. Discursive reasoning, if adhered to exclusively, would yield a very unpleasant life.

  51. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Skeptic , most people do not act in a rational manner:. Orthodox or not. The expectation of rational thought where there is none leads to much faulty attempts at communication. False rationality is at least as dangerous as what you posit

    Rational communication can only occur when people are aware of there premises.

    Orthodox teaching recognizes the non-rational in a manner that many others does not.

  52. Skeptic Avatar

    So long as we agree that this advice urges followers to reject rationality, a key concept of the Western Tradition, when it suits them, so as to make their lives less “unpleasant,” then there’s not much more to say. But the arbiter of “truth,” in this case, becomes what feels right, or what the “heart says,” which ultimately means what feels good.

    I notice that no one here is rejecting rationality per se; they are rejecting rationality sometimes, when it leads to consequences that they find undesirable. Which again, means that the self is making a decision about reality according to its effects upon the self, rather than systems of thought that might be shared with or by non-believers. It’s pure relativism. All of which is fine for monastics or communities of fairly uniform Orthodox (as in right-thinking) believers, but for anyone who has to interact with non-Orthodox, it’s a recipe for the echo chamber effect.

  53. Dino Avatar

    There’s rationality in the experiential verification of what is known through the non-rational and it can be transmitted to the unbeliever who can then take it or leave it. This is not based on what “feels right”…
    One example (although I have many): there’s many centuries of uninterrupted verification that the bodies of the freshly deceased athonites retain their flexibility. We see and touch this happening every single time over there and we see it not happening every single time outside of Athos, it’s nothing to do with ‘feeling’.

  54. Dino Avatar

    Elder Sophrony also makes another point regarding something different but related, on the first-hand experiences of the Saints, namely that experiences of such magnitude, of such immensity are so far beyond the region of even the most extreme psychological experiences of man that they cannot possibly be interpreted as psychological.
    Their fruits are also another -perhaps the most- solid argument (speaking of the internal experiences of Spiritual life here). But the unbeliever can always take it or leave it, let us remember that St Paul’s enemies still wanted to kill Paul despite hearing of his unexplainable Damascus change.

  55. Onesimus Avatar

    ‘but for others, this advice will lead to desperate failures of miscommunication, irreconcilable misunderstandings, and increasing isolation”

    Indeed, Perhaps even quite similar to the desparate failures of of Christ in these regards.

  56. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think you’re doing a version of reductionism viz. non-discursive reasoning as pure relativism. You seem to have two categories: discursive reason and “feelings.” That excludes what I have described by Florensky as well as many others in the Tradition. Christ, speaking with Nicodemus, clearly keeps pushing the conversation past a discursive reasoning exchange. He is by no means talking about a “feeling” but a reality that can only be known as a gift from God. That encounter, because it is an encounter, could be discussed discursively, but would be reduced to something less than encounter.

    I am indeed saying that without the encounter, you cannot know the Truth. That encounter is not a feeling, but it is every so much greater than a discursive notion.

  57. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Fr. Stephen, that is the truth. Without the encounter all the discursive reasoning and logic mean nothing. With it, everything has meaning.

  58. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    …and it allows one the grace to begin perceiving one’s sin and participate in the healing.

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